Mysterious Celtic Mummies of the Gobi

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By PHILIP COPPENS

The discovery of Caucasoid mummies in China shows that East and West have been meeting since the Bronze Age. Do they validate some of our most ancient legends? 

Christopher Columbus is said to have been the first to break down the barrier that was the Atlantic Ocean, that massive body of water separating two continents. But such a physical obstruction never existed between Europe and the East – one could always travel over land. The discovery of Caucasoid mummies in China provides not only indisputable evidence ‘Europeans’ travelled to the far East thousands of years before anyone imagined, it has also created controversy.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the likes of Sven Hedin, Albert von Le Coq and Sir Aurel Stein travelled to the East in search of ancient civilisations, hoping to reach the then forbidden city of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, and its ruler, the Dalai Lama. On their travels to this almost mythical region, they stumbled upon many ancient ruins and on occasion spoke about the discoveries of desiccated bodies.

In 1907, the Russian explorer Pyotr Kuzmich Koslov (1863-1935) actually reached Lhasa and met the Dalai Lama. Afterwards, he organised further expeditions and excavated Khara Khoto, a Tangut city founded in 1032 that had been ruined by the Ming Chinese in 1372. Koslov unearthed a tomb fifty feet below the ruins and found the body of a woman, apparently a queen, accompanied by various sceptres, wrought in gold and other metals. Though Koslov took numerous photographs that were published in American Weekly, he was not allowed to disturb or remove anything from the tomb, which was sealed again. His last expedition to Mongolia and Tibet occurred from 1923 to 1926 and resulted in the discovery of Xiongnu royal burials at Noin-Ula.

Mu & Lemuria

When news of such discoveries were reported back in the West, it ignited a wide interest in the mysteries of the East, which even today remain largely beyond the reach of most tourists. It were in these remote regions that James Churchward (1851-1936) claimed he had found evidence of a lost civilisation: Mu. For Churchward, Mu was a lost civilisation and continent in the East, which he estimated was 50,000 years old and once the home of 64 million inhabitants. Though Mu once stretched from Micronesia in the West to Easter Island and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, knowledge – if not descendants – of Mankind’s original homeland could possibly be found in India and surrounding regions. Churchward believed that the primary colony of Mu was the Great Uyghur Empire, Khara Khoto being its ancient capital, and the civilisation was at its height around 15,000 BCE. Check any encyclopaedia and you will find Churchward ‘borrowed’ that name from the historical Uyghur, who today live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China.

Churchward’s Mu was not too different from Madame Blavatsky’s Lemuria, and it was the American Theosophist Gottfried de Purucker (1874-1942) who published his thoughts on Blavatsky’s doctrine in 1937. He argued that this region, this “enormous tract of country, most of it desert waste,” was once fertile and lush with cities, and that it was here one would “find the seat from which we came as a racial stock,” which was the “Fifth Root Race.” Blavatsky described the fifth root race as such:

The Aryan races, for instance, now varying from dark brown, almost black, red-brown-yellow, down to the whitest creamy colour, are yet all of one and the same stock – the Fifth Root-Race – and spring from one single progenitor, […] who is said to have lived over 18,000,000 years ago, and also 850,000 years ago – at the time of the sinking of the last remnants of the great continent of Atlantis.

Later, the French author Robert Charroux (1909-1978) wrote that the Gobi Desert had Magi, or sages of the East, surpassing in wisdom even those resident in Tibet. Stories go that these cities once had ocean ports, and Edgar Cayce even argued that a “City of Gold” will be discovered in the Gobi Desert, including a temple with elevators and electric cars. Others have seen this region as the homeland of those ancient UFOs, the vimanas.

Taklamakan Desert Gives Up Its Secrets

But whereas the Gobi Desert might still hold some secrets, it is the Taklamakan Desert that has provided us with revelations. The Taklamakan Desert is a large sandy expanse, part of the Tarim Basin, a region roughly between Tibet and Mongolia, in western China, and crossed at its northern and southern edge by the Silk Road. Conditions are so harsh that travellers avoided the desert as much as possible, but in millennia gone by the region was populated and habitable – very much like de Purucker argued.

In recent decades, however, the south east section of the desert, on the edge of Gobi, has become an oasis for archaeologists and historians, as it is here that hundreds of Caucasoid mummies have been found. The most notable mummies are the tall, red-haired “Cherchen man” (dated to ca. 1000 BCE), the “Hami Mummy” (c. 1400-­800 BCE) and the “Witches of Subeshi” (4th or 3rd century BCE), who received their name because of the tall pointed hats they wore. However, the oldest mummy of all is the “Loulan Beauty” (1800 BCE).

Though not the oldest, one of the most famous mummies of the Taklamakan Desert is that of “Cherchen Man” (see photo in PDF version). His body was placed in a poplar-wood box, lowered into narrow shaft grave, and left for eternity. The climatic circumstances that make this region so inhospitable today preserved these corpses over the millennia, turning them into mummies.

Cherchen Man is six feet tall, was around fifty years old at the time of his death, has reddish brown hair, a long nose, full lips and a ginger beard. He was buried in a red twill tunic and tartan leggings, and his body is far better preserved than any Egyptian mummy. Most interestingly, Cherchen Man too was buried with no less than ten hats, one of which looks Roman, another looking like a beret, a cap, and even a conical “witch” hat – something commonly found with many of the mummies. His body dates back to 1000 BCE and he looks like a Bronze Age European. In fact, he’s every inch a Celt. Even his DNA says so.

Next to him were found the mummies of three women and a baby. One of the women is dressed in a red gown, wearing tall boots, her hair brushed and braided. She has a red yarn through her ear lobes and – like the man – has several tattoos on her face. All mummies were painted with a yellow substance, believed to help in the preservation of the body. The baby, probably 3-4 months old, is wrapped in brown blankets, tied with blue and red cord, with a blue stone placed on each eye (see photo in PDF version).

The oldest of the mummies is the 4,000 year old “Loulan Beauty,” (see photo in PDF version) a mummy discovered in 1980 in an ancient Chinese garrison town located by Sven Hedin in 1900. The town is near the Lop Nor marshes on the north-eastern edge of the Lop Desert. Hedin recovered many manuscripts that state the culture was wiped out by a large seismic occurrence which drastically changed the climate of the area and turned it into a desert. But that was several millennia after the Loulan Beauty lived. This female mummy has long, fair hair. Aged 45 when she died, the Loulan Beauty was buried with a basket of food containing domesticated wheat, combs and a feather. No doubt, these nourishments were for the afterlife.

She is not the lone ‘European’ to have lived here in those days: the cemetery at Yanbulaq contained no less than 29 mummies that date from 1800-500 BCE, 21 of which are Caucasoid. Best preserved of all the corpses is “Yingpan Man,” who is also known as “the Handsome Man,” a two metres tall 2,000 year old Caucasian mummy discovered in 1995. His blond bearded face was covered with a gold foil death mask, which is a Greek tradition; he also wore elaborate golden embroidered red and maroon wool garments with images of fighting Greeks or Romans. His head rests on a pillow in the shape of a crowing cockerel.

Elsewhere in the Tarim Basin, hundreds of other mummies have been found, with the earliest ones being genetically Caucausoid or Europoid. Some of the mummies are thought to have been sacrificial victims. A young woman was found partially dismembered, her eyes gouged out. A baby boy had apparently been buried alive. The question remains whether the latter was sacrificial, or he was merely buried with his dead mother.

How did Europeans End up in the Tarim Basin over 4,000 years ago?

Although their location is certainly an intriguing one, interest in these mummies exists largely because they are ‘out of place’ relics. Not only does DNA evidence show that the earliest arrivals were from Europe, analyses such as the weave of the cloth reveal it was identical to those found on the bodies of salt miners in Austria, dating from 1300 BCE. The wooden combs buried in Asia are also identical to those found in Celtic countries. So are the stone structures on top of their burial sites – similar to the dolmens of western Europe.

Despite such certainties, archaeologists and historians have struggled to fill in the ‘soft evidence’ – which are nevertheless the most important questions: how did they get to China, and why did they go?

We know about these early European visitors to the Tarim Basin largely thanks to the work of Dr. Victor Mair, a professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His fascination began when he toured the Urumchi Museum where some of the mummies are displayed. He then invited Dr. Elizabeth W. Barber of Occidental College (California) to visit the mummies and give her expert opinion on the weaving of their clothes.

“From around 1800 BCE, the earliest mummies in the Tarim Basin were exclusively Caucausoid, or Europoid,” says Mair. East Asian migrants arrived in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin about 3,000 years ago, while the Uyghur peoples arrived after the collapse of the Orkon Uyghur Kingdom, based in modern-day Mongolia, around the year 842.

Mair has also stated:

The new finds are also forcing a reexamination of old Chinese books that describe historical or legendary figures of great height, with deep-set blue or green eyes, long noses, full beards, and red or blond hair. Scholars have traditionally scoffed at these accounts, but it now seems that they may be accurate. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarim_mummies)

In short, Mair leaves little doubt that we are confronted with a ‘lost civilisation’ of a group of European settlers in a region millennia before any historical accounts were recorded.

Mair believes that early Europeans headed in different directions, some travelling west to become the Celts in Britain and Ireland, others taking a northern route to become the Germanic tribes, and then another offshoot heading east and ending up in Xinjiang. His team suggests they may have arrived in the region by way of the forbidding Pamir Mountains about 5,000 years ago.

His opinions tally with those of textile expert Barber, who in her book The Mummies of Ürümchi examined the tartan-style cloth and concluded that the garments can be traced back to Anatolia and the Caucasus, the steppe area north of the Black Sea. She argues this group of people divided, starting in the Caucasus and then splitting, one group going west and another east – confirming Mair’s opinion.

So, what do we know about these people? We know they were horsemen and herders using chariots, and may have invented the stirrup. We know they had arrived in this region by 1800 BCE. That around 1200 BCE, they were joined by another wave of Caucasoid immigrants from what is now Iran (the so-called Saka branch).

In fact, the Saka nomads had high-pointed hats – like the ones found next to Cherchen Man – as displayed on the Persepolis reliefs in southern Iran. A bronze statue found in the Altai Mountains from the 5th century BCE has a similar hat. Most important is the fact that the statue has Caucasoid features, and shows similarities in dress to Cherchen Man. It is therefore clear that apart from ‘hard’ DNA evidence, there is other incontrovertible evidence of an early European presence in China. The discovery of the mummies indeed rewrites history.

When Sir Thomas Douglas Forsyth reported on his 1875 mission to the region, he stated many of the people were tall, fair-faced, with light eyes, sandy whiskers and hair. He added they “only require to be put into coat and trousers to pass, so far as outward appearance goes, for the fairest Englishman.” Two millennia before, Pliny the Elder in “Taprobane” wrote about the Seres, which were described to the Roman Emperor Claudius by an embassy from Taprobane (Ceylon). He said they “exceeded the ordinary human height, had flaxen hair, and blue eyes,” a description which comes close to those people living in the Tarim Basin. Pliny the Elder also said they had an “uncouth sort of noise by way of talking, having no language of their own for the purpose of communicating their thoughts.”

Political Controversy

Though no texts have been found in relation to the Tarim mummies, it is now accepted these emigrants spoke a language known as Tocharian (the Chinese called them Yuezhi), that proved to be close to the languages of western Europe. Today, the region‘s inhabitants are the Uyghur people. With their light-coloured skin and hair, many Uyghur‘s are obviously of mixed genetic ancestry, and this fact has a political dimension.

If one were to find evidence of a Bronze Age seafarer in America, it would obviously create controversy. The discovery of the ‘European’ mummies on Chinese soil also has major political implications. The region is rife with separatist movements and the government fears that promoting a truly unique archaeological find might result in serious social and political unrest. This is one of the main reasons why the Terracotta Army is far more famous than the Tarim mummies!

Social unrest is greatest between the Uyghur and the Han Chinese. In their drive to lay claim to the region, the Loulan Beauty was even raised to the status of racial icon by the Uyghur, who call her “mother of the nation” – without little supporting evidence.

The Chinese historian Ji Xianlin, writing a preface to Ancient Corpses of Xinjiang by Wang Binghua, says that China “supported and admired” research by foreign experts into the mummies – i.e. Mair and Barber.

“However, within China a small group of ethnic separatists have taken advantage of this opportunity to stir up trouble and are acting like buffoons. Some of them have even styled themselves the descendants of these ancient ‘white people’ with the aim of dividing the motherland. But these perverse acts will not succeed,” Ji writes.

In comparing the DNA of the mummies to that of the modern day Uyghur, Mair’s team found some genetic similarities with the mummies, but “no direct links.” The fact of the matter is that neither the Uyghur nor the Han Chinese seem to be directly related to these ancient settlers – and that both are modern additions to, and admixtures in, a region populated millennia earlier.

What the discoveries suggest is that both immigrants and modern local Chinese are a mixture of races. “While it is clear that the early inhabitants of the Tarim Basin were primarily Caucasoids,” Mair has written, “it is equally clear that they did not all belong to a single homogeneous group. Rather, they represent a variety of peoples who seem to have connections with many far-flung parts of the Eurasian land mass for more than two millennia.”

He adds: “Modern DNA and ancient DNA show that Uyghurs, Kazaks, Kyrgyzs, the peoples of central Asia are all mixed Caucasian and East Asian. The modern and ancient DNA tell the same story.”

Furthermore, a National Geographic study of the DNA of the mummies suggests the Tarim Basin was continually inhabited from 2000 BCE to 300 BCE and preliminary results indicated the people, rather than having a single origin, originated from Europe, Mesopotamia, India and other regions yet to be determined.

It underlines, once again, that ethnic groups, whether ancient or modern, are genetically a mixture of many races.

The Formation of the Silk Road

What brought ‘Europeans’ to the Tarim Basin over 3,800 years ago? The southern Taklamakan Desert is an area where the Silk Road once flourished and prosperous cities were built. In Khotan, two large rivers were channelled, creating an oasis that grew wheat, rice, corn, cotton, grapes, peaches and melons, and irrigated fields for the grazing of sheep. It is clear that life must have been good in those days, and our ancient adventurers had everything they could want. However, because of gradual climate change, the cities were eventually abandoned and subsequently eroded and buried by the dunes.

The Silk Road was an ancient caravan route connecting China to the West. The Caucasoid mummies in this part of the world suggest the trade route is older than previously thought – very much like transoceanic contact might be several millennia older than Columbus’ first voyage to America.

The Silk Road was not just a conduit for silk; many other products were transported and traded and the routes were not merely travelled by merchants, but anyone wanting to go East – or West. The routes should therefore be seen as the ancient ‘highways’ between China and the Mediterranean Sea.

Trading between the East and West occurred from the dawn of civilisation – if not before. Between 6000 and 4000 BCE, people in the Sahara were already importing domesticated animals from Asia. By 3000 BCE, lapis lazuli – the only known source of which was Badakshan, in northeastern Afghanistan – was found in Egypt. Most specifically, the supply of Tarim Basin jade to China from ancient times is well established. Nephrite jade from mines in the region of Yarkand and Khotan – not too far from the lapis lazuli mines of Badakshan – was found in China. Xinru Liu writes:

It is well known that ancient Chinese rulers had a strong attachment to jade. All of the jade items excavated from the tomb of Fuhao of the Shang dynasty, more than 750 pieces, were from Khotan in modern Xinjiang. As early as the mid-first millennium [BCE] the Yuezhi [Indo-European people] engaged in the jade trade, of which the major consumers were the rulers of agricultural China. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarim_mummies)

The Tarim mummies overturn the idea that the West and the East developed independently and they only recently started to interact. As Dr. Mair notes,

I do believe that there is a growing mountain of hard evidence which indicates indubitably that the whole of Eurasia was culturally and technologically interconnected.

An interesting question is did the Celts go east – or did a Caucasoid group of people, perhaps native to the Tarim Basin, go to Europe? Turning the path of travel in the opposite direction could offer confirmation of speculation this region was an ancient ‘homeland’ that spread to other regions – specifically Europe.

With so little known about Bronze Age Celts both in Europe and Asia, no firm conclusions can be drawn either way – and perhaps never will. However, the Book of Manu (also known as the Laws of Manu), one of the supplementary arms of the Vedas, states that the “Uyghurs had settlements on the northern and eastern shores of the Caspian Sea” and German anthropologist Max Muller (1823-1900) wrote that “the first Caucasians were a small company from the mountains of Central Asia.”

These conclusions are obviously ‘old’ – but are they therefore erroneous? Written more than a century before the Tarim mummies were discovered, they actually speak of the presence of Caucasians in China. And if they got that right, is it possible they got other things right too?

Only future discoveries are likely to tell. But at least it’s an undeniable fact there was contact between Bronze Age Caucasians and East Asians along the Silk Road. The evidence is for all to see in the Urumchi Museum.

Interested in forgotten civilisations and secrets of the past? Then be sure to check out New Dawn Special Issue Vol 7 No 1.

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PHILIP COPPENS (25 January 1971 – 30 December 2012) was a Belgian author, radio host, and commentator whose writings, speeches and television appearances focused on areas of alternative and fringe science and history. Coppens was born in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium. He was married to Kathleen McGowan on September 22, 2011. He was a cohost of the Spirit Revolution radio show, his writing was featured in Nexus, Atlantis Rising, and New Dawn magazines, and he appeared in 16 episodes of the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens television series.

The above article appeared in New Dawn No. 112 (January-February 2009)

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